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Brazilian Foreign Minister Resigns Amid Diplomatic Scandal

August 27, 2013

by AQ Online

The Brazilian government confirmed Monday night that Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has resigned after the Brazilian embassy in La Paz facilitated the passage of a Bolivian opposition senator to Brazil. The diplomatic scandal has heightened tensions between Brazil and Bolivia, which accuses Brazil of violating international agreements.

Brazil granted Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto asylum last year, when he alleged that he was a victim of political persecution by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which had accused Pinto of crimes including corruption. Pinto had been living in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz for 450 days when he was transported across the Bolivan-Brazilian border in a Brazilian diplomatic vehicle with Brazilian Chargé d’affairs Eduardo Saboia, who provided diplomatic immunity. He crossed the border on Saturday after a 22-hour car ride and arrived by plane in Brasília on Sunday.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has demanded an official explanation from Brazilian authorities. “This is a most negative incident: under protection of diplomatic immunity you can traffic drugs, arms and people. What happened is extremely serious,” Choquehuanca said, adding that Pinto faces four pending arrest warrants. Pinto, meanwhile, accuses the Bolivian government of involvement in drug trafficking.

The Brazilian government in Brasília reportedly did not know about the plan to facilitate Pinto’s entry into Brazil. Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila said that the case “has not affected bilateral relations with Brazil.”

Patriota will be replaced as foreign minister by Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, the permanent representative of Brazil to the United Nations, while Patriota will take Figueiredo’s place at the UN.

Tags: Bolivia, Brazil, Antonio Patriota, Roger Pinto

Brazil's Future in the Shadow of the Mensalão

August 22, 2013

by Maria Paula Schmidt Carvalho

For four months in 2012, like a national soap opera, Brazilians watched the biggest political corruption trial in the country’s history unfold inside Brasilia’s Supreme Federal Court. The complex plot, whose script was based on seven years of investigation, revealed a bribery scheme known as the mensalão—in which members of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) bribed members of Congress in exchange for political support between 2003 and 2005.

According to the investigation initiated in 2005 and carried out by the Public Ministry, the Federal Police and the Brazilian Court of Audit, the scheme involved about 100 million reais (about $50 million) in irregular payments to congressmen.

In December 2012, 37 people, including politicians, businessmen, lawyers, and bankers were put on trial, with 25 found guilty.

“The results of this trial shake the feeling of impunity that exists in Brazil,” explained Federal Court Minister Marco Aurélio de Mello.  

Last week, the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court—STF) began the final stage of the trial, considering the last possible appeals by the defendants. The judges may adjust the sentences or even render new verdicts.

Impunity is so entrenched in Brazil that not even the federal police officer in charge of the investigations believed that those charged would be convicted. “The result was better than I expected,” said Luís Flávio Zampronha. “In Brazil you don’t see effective punishment—for example, imprisonment of people who have greater economic power.”

José Dirceu, the all-powerful former chief of staff to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison for masterminding the scheme. He was also fined $338,000. The former president of the PT, José Genoíno, and the former PT treasurer, Delúbio Soares, were found guilty of corruption alongside Dirceu.

The key player in the mensalão case, entrepreneur Marcos Valério, was sentenced to 40 years in jail and fined $1,319,800. The whistleblower, representative Roberto Jefferson, along with former federal representatives from four different political parties were charged with crimes and convicted.

The mensalão case has strong political implications.  Those condemned have yet to be jailed because of appeals; during the recent protests, Brazilians demanded that the mensalão's defendants be sent to prison.

But this is not the first corruption scandal involving important Brazilian politicians in recent history. Until now, unethical or illegal behavior has yet to be an impediment to a long career in Brazilian politics.

In September 1992, Fernando Collor de Mello became the first president of Brazil to be removed from office for criminal liability after Congress voted to impeach him, with 441 votes in favor, 38 against and one abstention. Though found guilty by his peers, Collor was nonetheless acquitted by the Supreme Federal Court, which also judged the mensalão scandal. Today Collor is back in power as a senator for the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Labor Party—PTB)

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Tags: Mensalão Scandal, Brazil

2014 World Cup Ticket Sales Begin with High Demand

August 21, 2013

by AQ Online

The 2014 FIFA World Cup website went live at 10:00 am GMT (6:00 am EDT) on Tuesday, with over 1 million applications for tickets submitted in just seven hours. Around 3 million tickets will be available for the 64 matches in Brazil scheduled to begin on June 12, 2014, with Brazil playing the opener in São Paulo. In the first day, the majority of applications came from Brazil, Argentina, the U.S., Chile, and England.

According to Thierry Weil, FIFA’s marketing director, ticket demand is expected to be similar to that seen for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Approximately 7 fans applied for each ticket that year and 3.3 million people attended the tournament. The 2010 tournament in South Africa had a significantly smaller turnout of almost 2 million people.

Each applicant can request up to four tickets for a maximum of seven matches. Tickets range in price from $90 for first-round matches to $990 for the final match at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilians over the age of 60, local students and recipients of the Bolsa Familia family grant will be allowed to purchase tickets for $23. About 500,000 tickets were set aside for Brazilian recipients.

If not enough tickets are available to fulfill all requests, all applications submitted by October 10, 2013, will be entered into a lottery with winners automatically receiving tickets. Additional tickets will become available on November 5 on a first-come, first-served basis. After the World Cup draw has determined where and when each nation will play, a second application phase will begin on December 8. That lottery will be held on January 30, 2014, with a second first-come, first-served phase to follow.

World Cup ticket sales are taking place only weeks after massive demonstrations shook the biggest cities in Brazil, with citizens protesting against corruption, income inequality and the rising costs of hosting the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Another concern is Brazil’s timeline for completions of the necessary infrastructure to host the games. According to FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, Brazil is almost ready. Still, the organization is expecting more protests during the 2014 World Cup similar to what took place in June during the Confederation Cup.

Tags: FIFA World Cup, FIFA, Brazil

Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador Discuss Security

August 16, 2013

by AQ Online

Defense Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil met with his counterparts, Juan Carlos Pinzón of Colombia and María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, in the Brazilian city of Manaus Thursday morning. The meeting was focused on strengthening security cooperation between the three nations that border the Amazon.

Protecting the Amazon from illegal activities was the main topic of the meeting organized as part of a seminar organized by the Centro Gestor do Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia (Amazon Protection System Management and Operations Center—CENISPAM). “Illegal mining and narcotrafficking are the most serious threats to the Amazon’s biodiversity and natural resources. Such activities finance terrorist and criminal organizations, are violating [our] sovereignty and threaten the security of citizens,” Pinzón said.

The meeting comes just days after an Ecuadorean army lieutenant was killed in a firefight with FARC rebels on the Ecuador-Colombian border, highlighting the need for greater security among the porous borders of South America. “By acting together, we will be more protected from security threats in South America,” Amorim said.

Tags: Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Amazon

An Assessment of the Brazilian Government’s Response to the Protests

August 14, 2013

by Shari Wejsa and Vítor de Salles Brasil

The wave of protests that first spread across Brazil in June may have subsided for the time being, but President Dilma Rousseff is still dealing with the political fallout.

To recap, after at first not responding to the protests, President Rousseff finally released a statement on June 21 during a ceremony to launch the new mineral sector regulatory framework. Three days later, revealing a sense of urgency, she met with Brazil’s 27 state governors and 26 state capital mayors. Then, on national television, she laid out new reforms to respond to protestor demands: fiscal responsibility; inflation control; stricter penalties for corruption; and reforms in public health, education, transportation, and politics—culminating in a partial constituent assembly that would consider modifications to Brazil’s constitution.

Rousseff’s Proposed Reforms

The president’s proposals seemed to prioritize political reform and addressing corruption. According to Rousseff, the constituent assembly would establish specific rules for selecting leaders and lawmakers as well as new regulations for campaign finance, coalitions between parties, and advertising on TV and radio.  

The idea of a partial constituent assembly is not new in Brazil’s recent political history. In 1999, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso supported the implementation of a partial constituent assembly to more efficiently address tax, political and judicial reforms.

Rousseff’s proposal received immediate backlash, however. The president of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Lawyer’s Bar Association), Marcus Vinicius Furtado Coelho, reaffirmed the association’s opposition, stating that political reform did not warrant changes to the Brazilian Constitution. Recently-elected Supreme Court Minister Luis Roberto Barroso and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, both ardent constitutionalists, also disapproved. As of June 25, President Dilma Rousseff had opted to forego the constituent assembly.

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Tags: Brazil, protests, Dilma Rousseff

Monday Memo: Kerry in Brazil and Colombia – Argentine Primaries – Colombia Peace Talks – Chong Chon Gang – Brazil Dictatorship Spying

August 12, 2013

by AQ Online

Likely top stories this week: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Colombia and Brazil; Argentines vote in congressional primary elections; FARC and Colombian government hail progress in peace talks; Panama concludes its inspection of the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang; and documents reveal details of Brazilian dictatorship-era spying.

John Kerry Travels to Brazil and Colombia: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will make brief visits to both Colombia and Brazil early this week to meet with high-level government officials in both countries to discuss trade and energy, as well as address the recent revelations that the U.S. conducted electronic spying in foreign countries by monitoring phone calls and e-mails.  U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos by phone to offer an explanation for the National Security Agency program, but Santos said Thursday that he wants further explanation from the U.S., and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed indignation about the program at the UN. Kerry will arrive in Bogotá on Monday and Brasília on Tuesday.

Argentines Vote in Congressional Primaries: Argentine voters went to the polls on Sunday for mandatory congressional primary elections that could serve as a bellwether for Argentina's October 27 midterm elections.  By early Monday, candidates from the government’s Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) led in Senate races in six of seven provinces, but FPV candidates for the Chamber of Deputies trailed in the country’s most populous provinces, including the province of Buenos Aires and the city of Buenos Aires. A third of the country's Senate seats and nearly half of the Chamber of Deputies seats will be up for grabs in October, with the results likely to affect Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's chances of reforming the Constitution and winning a third term in office.

FARC and Colombian Government Hail Progress in Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) released a joint statement on Saturday praising the results of the 12th round of peace talks. Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that "nobody has come this far," acknowledging progress in discussions over the FARC's future participation in Colombian politics—the second item on a five-point peace agenda. The Colombian government has refused to call a ceasefire while peace talks are underway. On Friday, the Colombian military killed FARC commander Jesus Antonio Plata Rios, known as "Zeplin," who led the rebels in western Colombia.

Panama Concludes Search of North Korean Ship: The Panamanian government said Sunday that it has concluded its search of the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang, stopped in Panama on its way from Cuba on July 15 under suspicions that the ship was transporting drugs. Authorities said that they had spent nearly a month unloading hundreds of thousands of bags of sugar from the ship, revealing 25 containers filled with undeclared weapons and six military vehicles. The Cuban government has acknowledged the military equipment onboard, but says that it is obsolete and was being sent to North Korea for repairs. On Monday, a team of six UN inspectors arrives in Panama to investigate whether the shipment violated international sanctions against North Korea.

Brazil's Dictatorship-Era Spying: As Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota prepares to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week to discuss U.S. electronic spying in Brazil, Brazil's O Estado de São Paulo revealed Sunday that the Brazilian military government spied on its neighbors—particularly Argentina—during the country's military dictatorship. Meanwhile, the digital archive Armazém Memoria (Memory Warehouse), Brazil's federal prosecutor's office, and other local and national entities jointly  launched the "Brasil: Nunca Mais" (Brazil Never Again) digital initiative on Friday, which includes hundreds of thousands of pages of searchable documents and multimedia from 710 trials of dissidents during the 1964-1985 regime.

Tags: John Kerry, Chong Chon Gang, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina

Rousseff Recalibrates

July 30, 2013

by Stephen Kurczy

The boos that hailed down on Dilma Rousseff last month at the Confederations Cup are growing louder. Approval for the Brazilian president fell 26 percentage points in the last month, from 71 percent in June to 45 percent in July, according to a July 9–12 poll conducted by Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Public Opinion Research Institute—IBOPE).

But rather than taking a turn toward higher public spending, analysts and economists expect the Brazilian president to instead recalibrate toward more investor-friendly policies that will encourage private infrastructure spending, reverse a trend of rising unemployment, and spur GDP growth.

For observers of Brazil and other emerging economies, today’s social unrest may be the necessary step backward before the market can take two steps forward.

“If there’s one unifying theme that has held together the emerging market economies over the past 10 years, it is that incumbents have been strong and riding this economic cycle,” said Christopher Garman, the Latin America director of Eurasia Group, on July 17 during the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s mid-year political and economic outlook in New York City. That cycle contributed to today’s average length of incumbency being 7.4 years, he said—twice as long as in 2002.

“What we’re witnessing in Brazil is the end of a political supercycle and the return of economic constraints on politicians,” continued Garman. “As these constraints rise, we’re going to have a return of more constructive policies, both in terms of working more aggressively with the private sector in order to find more ways of boosting investment, and also on a macroeconomic framework.”

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Tags: Brazil, Brazilian Economy, Dilma Rousseff

Pope Francis Concludes Brazil Visit on Sunday

July 26, 2013

by AQ Online

Pope Francis I marks the end of his seven-day visit to Brazil this weekend—the first to Latin America as Pontiff—with a Sunday Mass marking the 28th World Youth Day, a worldwide event for young people started by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

His visit has sought to re-energize Catholicism in Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest Catholic population. Still, while 90 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, Datafolha polling shows that has dropped to 57 percent of the population today.

On Thursday the Pope travelled to Manguinhos, a favela in the municipality of Serra in the state of Espírito Santo, where he denounced the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The favela —home to about 35,000 people—is known locally as the “Gaza Strip” for its frequent gunfire. Condemning growing inequality in Brazil and responding to the recent protests, the Pope urged youth to remain alert to injustices and be catalysts in the struggle against corruption.

Despite 30,000 soldiers and police on-hand, the Pope’s visit has been marred by logistical challenges. On Monday, his motorcade got stuck on a crowded street, exposing the Pope to a mob of onlookers. On Tuesday, Rio’s subway system broke down for two hours, leaving thousands of passengers scrambling to reach a seaside Mass in the city of Aparecida—known for its massive shrine to Brazil’s patron saint.

On Wednesday, the Pope visited a drug rehabilitation hospital in Rio, where he called traffickers “merchants of death.” Brazilians consume the largest amount of crack cocaine in Latin America and, according to a recent study by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Federal University of São Paulo), Brazil has 1 million addicted users. The Pope emphasized the need to “confront the problems underlying the use of drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”

The Pope is next scheduled to visit Brazil in 2017.

Tags: Pope Francis, Brazil

Amid Protests, Pope Francis Arrives in Brazil for World Youth Day

July 23, 2013

by AQ Online

Pope Francis—the first Latin American to head the Catholic Church—arrived in Brazil on Monday to celebrate World Youth Day, a week-long international gathering of young Catholics initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. While millions of Catholics have traveled to Rio de Janeiro to greet the Pope, he was also met on Monday night by a group of 1,500 demonstrators outside of Rio’s Guanabara Palace, where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and hundreds of dignitaries greeted the Pope in the official welcome ceremony.

Brazil is still shaken by social unrest that saw hundreds of thousands of protesters demand an end to corruption and better public services last month, and many demonstrators are now criticizing the estimated $53 million that will be spent on security during the Pope’s visit. In anticipation of more protests this week, the Defense Ministry boosted the number of army, air force and navy personnel and rolled out what state officials called “the biggest police operation in (Rio de Janeiro’s) history.” Even so, security might be problematic as the Pope plans to ride through the center of the city in an open-air vehicle, instead of the traditional bulletproof popemobile.

Pope Francis’ visit also comes at a delicate time for the Catholic Church in Brazil. Though Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic community—an estimated 123 million—Catholicism has been challenged by the country’s surging Evangelical population in the past three decades. Today, about 65 percent of the total population—compared with 92 percent in 1970—identifies as Catholic. In contrast, the number of evangelicals has risen from 5 percent of the population in 1970 to 22 percent in 2010. Rio de Janeiro is the country’s least Catholic state, with 45 percent of the population identifying as Catholic, according to the newspaper O Globo.

The Pope's weeklong visit has drawn over one million young Catholics to Rio de Janeiro. The pontiff will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida— Brazil’s top pilgrimage site. He will also tour the Varginha favela in Rio, meet young inmates and hold three public Masses. The theme of the July 23-28 World Youth Day is “Go and make disciples of all nations,” a saying that summarizes the Pope’s mission to reinvigorate Brazil’s Catholic community.

 

Tags: Pope Francis, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, World Youth Day, Catholic Church

Rousseff Again Calls for a Plebiscite on Political Reforms

July 18, 2013

by AQ Online

On Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reiterated her proposal for a plebiscite on reforms to address citizen discontent over corruption and public spending that have fueled massive protests since June.

Rousseff first proposed a plebiscite on June 24.  According to her plan, voters would select from a menu of options to overhaul the nation’s political system and address corruption. The plebiscite would precede any congressional deliberations and Congress would then legislate based on the plebiscite’s results. However, Congress quickly rejected the proposal.  Instead, some members of Congress favored first drawing up a package of political reforms that would then be put to voters for approval in a national referendum.

During a meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Consejo de Desarrollo Económico y Social (Economic and Social development Council—CDES), Rousseff defended the plebiscite, noting that recent protests have demonstrated a deep desire among citizens to have greater and more direct say in their government’s policies.  A plebiscite, she maintained, would offer a chance for greater citizen participation than a referendum and help guide the government’s plans for reform.

While Rousseff’s popularity has suffered since the start of the protests—a MDA Pesquisa poll showed a drop in her approval ratings to 31 percent this week, from 54 percent in June, support for the plebiscite is strong.  According to a Datafolha poll, 68 percent of Brazilians favor holding a plebiscite. The Brazilian Constitution stipulates that any changes to electoral rules must be in force a year before elections. Rousseff had originally hoped to hold the plebiscite before October 5—a year in advance of 2014 elections—but congressional opposition will make that timetable unlikely.

Tags: Brazil protests, Brazil, Dilma Rousseff

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